If vitiligo is not treated, it may spread extensively to involve various skin areas. Rarely, some patches may go away or decrease in size. Although vitiligo is neither dangerous nor causes symptoms, such as pain or itch, the sufferers may be upset and stressed because of the way their skin appears.
What is vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a long-term (chronic) medical condition causing areas of skin to lose color. This presents with pale white patches on the skin. The patches do not cause any pain or itch. The condition results from the loss of skin pigment, melanin. Vitiligo can affect any part of the body, although it is mostly seen on the face, neck, hands, and skin creases. Some people may also get white patches inside the mouth, on the hair, or in the eye. Vitiligo may affect people to different extents; some may only get a few white patches while others may get most of their body affected.
What causes vitiligo?
The exact cause of this condition is not known. Many studies, however, suggest that vitiligo occurs due to some autoimmune mechanism (when the body’s immune system attacks its cells and tissues). Vitiligo is not a life-threatening disease. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
Who is at risk of getting vitiligo?
Vitiligo can affect any person of any age or gender. The exact cause and risks of vitiligo are not known. Many people start getting vitiligo patches before they are 20 years old.
Can vitiligo be cured?
There is no available cure for vitiligo. The treatment, however, can be done to
- Slow or stop disease progression.
- Help melanocytes (the skin cells that make color) to grow again.
- Make the white skin patches to attain normal skin color again.
The treatment for vitiligo may vary from person to person. A treatment option that works for one individual may not work for the other. Sometimes, it needs a combination of treatment options for adequate results. Some people may get new vitiligo patches with time. You must consult with your dermatologist to know which treatment options will work best for you.
Treatment of vitiligo can include:
- Cosmetics to camouflage the patches: These include makeup, self-tanners, and skin dyes. They are safe but time-consuming options. Because of their safety, they can be used in children with vitiligo.
- Topical medications (medicines applied to the skin): Many topical medications, such as steroid creams or ointments, can add color to the skin. Topical medications work best for people with darkly pigmented skin. They show the best results on the face as compared to other body parts.
- Light treatment: It involves using light to restore skin color.
- PUVA (Psoralen and ultraviolet/UV A) light therapy: It uses UV A light and the medicine Psoralen (topical or as a pill) to restore the skin color.
- Surgery: Surgery may be done in some adults when medications and other therapy fail.
- Unconventional treatment: In some people, certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs, such as Ginkgo biloba, help restore the skin color
- Depigmentation: Rarely, some people may opt for the removal of the remaining skin pigment (depigmentation). This may be done in people who have extensive skin involvement due to vitiligo.
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Vitiligo (Neck) PictureVitiligo. This photo shows a large patch of vitiligo on the back neck of a child. These types of white patches develop after skin has lost its melanin when the pigment-forming cells known as melanocytes have been destroyed. The condition tends to progress and may even become universal. Sophisticated cover-up cosmetics that are now available. For some patients the application of topical corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors alone or with brief natural sunlight exposure early in the course of the disease may induce repigmentation. Varying combinations of topical or oral psoralens and ultraviolet light called PUVA (a combination of psoralen and long-wave ultraviolet radiation) are sometimes used in the treatment of vitiligo. The use of broad-spectrum sunscreens during the summer months can minimize the contrast between normal and involved skin.
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